Friday, March 04, 2005
'Hobbit' fossil likely represents new branch on human family tree
A fossil of a diminutive human nicknamed "the Hobbit" likely represents a previously unrecognized species of early humans, according to the results of a detailed comparison of the fossil's brain case with those of humans, apes and other human ancestors.
Skeptics had argued that the Hobbit, discovered in Indonesia and first announced last fall, could have been an individual who suffered from a disorder that limited brain growth known as microcephaly. The fossils' discoverers had suggested that the Hobbit was either a pygmy form of a known species or a previously undiscovered species of early humans.
The new data on the Hobbit reveal little similarity to microcephalics and pygmies and support the theory that the fossil is a member of a unique ancestral species, according to researchers who publish their results online this week in Science. Scientists at Florida State University; Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; the University of New England, Australia; and the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology, Jakarta authored the new paper.
Australian and Indonesian archaeologists began to unearth the Hobbit in 2003 in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. Tooth wear on the fossil, which appears likely to have been a female, indicated that she was a full-grown adult at the time of death. But she stood only about 3 feet tall and had a brain approximately one-third the size of modern adult humans. Evidence suggests she may have lived as recently as 18,000 years ago.
The specimen came to be known as the Hobbit because her small size evoked the undersized protagonists known as Hobbits in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Posted by C. at 10:35 AM